Fellicia Foster began her journey in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) space long before her current role as Vice President and U.S. Head of Inclusion and Diversity at BMO. Fellicia found her passion for DEI in high school serving as a Diversity and Inclusion intern at PepsiCo. While in college at Illinois State University, she served as a diversity training facilitator for doctoral counseling service interns, spoke on various student panels, and worked on the Diversity Initiatives Committee of the Student Government Association.
After graduating, Fellicia brought her passion for DEI to her professional career, leading an employee resource group at her company. She also spearheaded the formation of a Chicago-based coalition of Black ERG leaders across multiple industries called the Black Employee Resource Group (BERG). Throughout her academic and professional career, she has consistently demonstrated her commitment to building inclusive and equitable environments.
At BMO, the eighth largest bank, by assets, in North America, Ms. Foster develops U.S. diversity talent strategies to create a diverse and inclusive workforce and break down barriers for employees to pursue and excel in their careers. She holds a North American mandate to develop and oversee programs and initiatives designed to enhance the recruitment and successful engagement and retention of employees from diverse and under-represented groups. In addition, she serves as a liaison and develops partnerships within communities to promote diversity as an essential element of BMO’s mission. In keeping with the volunteer service of her college days, she has expanded her reach through leadership on diverse non-profit boards and councils, community organizations and various institutional boards, including the Illinois Diversity Council.
I was honored to have a chance to learn how Ms. Foster views DEI in light of current events and what excites her most about this moment in history.
Heather McClean: Looking back at your work this time last year, how has your day-to-day work shifted to accommodate both the pandemic and current discourse around anti-racism and building a more equitable workforce?
Fellicia Foster: My day-to-day accountabilities are focused on moving the dial for all diversity segments and ensuring we are well-positioned to reach our diversity representation goals annually. However, a year ago, many felt, including myself, that diversity and inclusion was a slow journey. But as I reflect on the last few months, specifically the nation’s focus on anti-racism and racial unrest, it has become very clear that the slow-paced movement of actioning diversity initiatives is no longer an option. Now there is a keen awareness to move with speed on bold commitments. In addition, the pandemic has expedited the need for reliable technology and the upskilling of technical skills to effectively and efficiently work in a digital environment. Technology has opened doors to allow us to broaden our reach for diverse candidates through remote career opportunities, increased our ability to engage with employees across regions within our Employee Resource Groups, and reduced cost in a variety of ways.
Heather: The need for diversity officers has risen dramatically as organizations realize that the world is watching how they react to this moment. What would you tell a company looking to hire a diversity officer for the first time?
Fellicia: First, the organization should create the conditions for the individual to succeed. Then, ask senior leaders at the organization to commit to increasing diversity representation and developing an inclusive and equitable work culture. Next, be willing to resource your diversity officer with the tools, support, and funding to execute on the diversity strategy. Finally, create space for your diversity officer to have visibility with executive leadership to share the diversity strategy and representation data with the goal of holding leaders accountable for hiring, promoting, and retaining diverse talent.
Heather: What advice do you have for people entering this field?
Fellicia: Foremost, have passion and interest in driving this work. Beyond the passion and interest, take some time to educate yourself and seek out perspectives and experiences of diverse individuals. If you are interested in the greater good as well as helping to drive business through diversity, you are on the right track. Then, take a deep look at the current landscape of diversity and inclusion to ensure that the actions you are taking will drive impactful outcomes. Understand your business holistically and have an end-to-end view of your diversity data and employee experience. This will help you assess diversity gaps that will enlighten the development of a comprehensive DEI strategy. Lastly, network with other DEI leaders in the market – leaning in with others will provide you with an extended support and external informant team.
Heather: What excites you about this moment with regard to DEI work?
Fellicia: We have a great opportunity to evoke significant change. Because of the increase of eager allies willing to drive change to create a more inclusive environment, it gives me hope that our future will look different than the past 10+ years. The analogy that I once used for DEI work was that it was a cruise ship that takes a bit of time to move. But now, my excitement has shifted, given that we are now on a speed boat – swiftly moving to a destination where everyone belongs and the environment is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
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